By now, web scraping is a normal part of online life. From one-man side hustles to the world’s largest corporations: Web scraping is used by thousands of people every day.
Whatever type of data you need, you can probably find a way to extract it. You can monitor your competitors’ prices with data scraping. You can monitor what your customers are saying about your business. Or you can track whether your SEO efforts are having an impact. Once you know how to scrape data from the web, you’ll find the possibilities are near endless.
But how do you actually go about scraping the web? And what are the best ways to scrape the web?
If you want to scrape data from a site or a set of sites, you have a few options. For example, you can create a web scraper yourself, or you can get a subscription to a tool to do it for you instead. But how do you know which way is best for you and your situation?
Below, we’ll run you through the best ways to scrape the web. This way, you can decide for yourself what best fits your needs. Let’s go!
Use an API
This is the easiest option. Unfortunately, it’s not always that commonly available.
An Application Programming Interface (API) is an interface that allows the communication between different software solutions. An application or operating system can have an API, which allows others to access its data.
A common example is the use of weather data. From smart homes to Google searches, you can easily retrieve the most up to date weather data.
But whether you’re checking the weather on Google or Apple or Bing, the actual data is not provided by these companies. Instead, the data comes from a weather company that provides an API, allowing others (like Google) to access their data.
And this is probably the easiest form of web scraping. In this case, you only have to find the company’s API and extract the data. It couldn’t be easier, right?
Well, unfortunately, most companies don’t give access to their data that easily. Some companies charge hefty prices to give you access to their API, while in most other cases an API simply doesn’t exist.
For example, if you would like to scrape data from Google Scholar the easiest way would be through a Google Scholar API. While an official one does not exist, you can learn more about custom-built ones by looking for third party providers. And that brings us to option two.
Build a web scraper
Even without an API, you can still get your hands on a site’s data through web scraping.
The first way in which you can do this is by building your own web scraper from scratch. To do so you will need a bit of coding knowledge (or be willing to learn coding basics, for example through Codecademy).
A web scraper or bot is a script written in a programming language like Python or PHP. In most cases, you won’t have to start completely from scratch as there is quite a lot of open-source material available.
For example, you can build a web scraper with Python’s Beautiful Soup library relatively easily.
The advantage of building a web scraper compared to using an API is that you can technically use it on any web page you want. The downside is that it requires coding knowledge and, depending on the size and scale of your scraper, a lot of time and effort.
That’s because building a basic web scraper is only part of the work. Sites are continually trying to block bot traffic by putting a wide range of obstacles in place. From reCAPTCHAs to IP limitations to testing the User-Agent.
Your scraper needs to be able to avoid detection by keeping up to date with all the latest defense mechanisms. Writing and maintaining a scraper like that is difficult and time-consuming.
And that brings us to the third and easiest way to scrape the web.
Use a web scraping tool
If you want the ease-of-use of an API but the unlimited applicability of a web scraper, your best bet is to get a web scraping tool.
There are many different tools out there, but many offer roughly the same thing. You simply provide the URLs you want to scrape and the tool does the rest for you. Some of them are free to use – but will require some work on your end still – while others are paid for but offer a fully automated solution in return.
Quality web scraping tools will be up to date with the latest anti-scraping mechanisms that sites might employ and they will know how to circumvent them. For example, a good tool will use rotating IP addresses to prevent the bot’s IP from getting blocked.